REFLECTIONS ON A SOLO EXHIBITION

When a friend applied for an exhibition at a city gallery several years back, well meaning friends told her it was unlikely she'd be accepted as a first-time applicant. So she didn't have many works ready other than those she needed to submit when applying. To her surprise, she was accepted for a solo show. She had just months to prepare.  Her advice to me was to 1) be prepared for anything and 2) have high quality photos for the application. 

Fortunately I had a bit longer to get ready when I was accepted late last year for my first solo, almost 7 months in fact. But no matter how much or little time is available to us, the work will expand to fit the time. And due to Covid-19, I was home more and so had more time to work on my fibre art creations. 
My show has only just opened and runs for a month. Here are some reflections on the experience so far: 
  • I'm pleased with the number of works I was able to make. Of course it is better to have a few high quality pieces that a lot of mediocre ones, and I think I've achieved a good balance. But some almost didn't make it...
  • The one piece I really wanted as high impact almost didn't get done. It took me out of my comfort zone and I had lots of uncertainty about next steps and completion. It would simply sit for days at a time while I pondered possible solutions. When I did work on it, progress was minimal. Despite experimenting with the "icicles" (photos below) months before to get the look I was seeking, it was the last piece to be finished and only one day before the show was hung. It was my stepdaughter who prompted me to finish it after seeing its potential. I realized I had been too close to it to be objective. And I'm pleased to say the piece has received many compliments.
      
  • Learning which items people like most is curious. Some liked my favourites. Others preferred ones I wasn't as fond of. Vibrant colours, high contrast or unusual materials seemed to be top of the list. Next was subject matter. It was heartening to see how many people did take the time to survey each piece of art and their many layers rather than giving any a quick once-over. (See my post on Learning to Look at Art).
  • I didn't hear any negative comments although I did wonder about the pieces no one mentioned.  On reflection, I suspect I included them as fillers or to look like I had a larger body of work. But each in its own way was important in its making: experimenting with a material, exploring a colour combination, or simply a piece that had been calling to me to be created.
  • But it was the ones that took me out of my comfort zone that have the highest impact in this show. The ones I struggled with. The ones I had to keep plugging away on and had fortunately started making early on so had more time to finish. One in particular that was vexing at times, in addition to the Icicles above, was a sunflower piece: see my post on Making Fibre Art Sunflowers Pop.
  • A few years ago I read a review about an art installation in which the art critic talked not just about the art but of the whole experience from the visitor's perspective. He talked of the welcome, the care taken by the organizers to make this not just a show but an experience. When we think about your personal purpose of having an art show, the critic is very right in calling attention to the deeply moving experience he had. An art show is not just about making and showing art and maybe selling a piece or two. It's much more than that. We share our creative side, our messages in the art, our innovations and enthusiasm, we connect with our viewers, we awaken memories, we inspire, we create a welcoming environment. 


A few words on the application and set-up processes:
  • Great photos are an absolute must! That meant learning how to take high quality photographs, getting the lighting right, adjusting the photos. All that takes practice. Some juries will look at the photos on a larger screen so they can see every little detail. Other shows want to jury the pieces in person. The goal here is to first get on the "maybe" list, then on the "yes" list. 
  • In order to have great photos, I needed to have high quality art. That means I needed to be accomplished with the techniques, but also have an eye for and good understanding of composition and design. 
  • My theme was important too, and not easy to write in just 50 words. The theme means a cohesive show of art. Until now I was never interested in working in a series, but that is what galleries want. And I realized that isn't as restrictive as I had originally thought. My primary technique remained the same with each piece, and my series built one upon the next within my theme as I continued to create and ask "what if" for the subjects within the theme.
  • Find out if someone from the gallery will be directing set-up, or if arrangement of art is up to you. There was a volunteer available if needed for my show, but it was left up to me to decide what to hang and place where. I had brought along a good friend who has much experience with hanging shows. Her advice was very welcome and sound, and this would not look as good without her input. 

A show of this type takes months to plan and prepare for, and it feels wonderful to see it all come together. And now that I have much more time on my hands I can get back to a few things I've been neglecting. And to decide what project to take on next.

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